Falling for the Highlands


A few years ago I fell head over heels in love with the highlands.  That is, the lochs (or lakes) — Lomond and Ness, legends (Nessie), history (Rob Roy, William Wallace, a.k.a. “Brave Heart”, clans, ruins and castles ), snow-capped mountains (Ben Nevis) and Hairy-Coo-dotted Highlands of Scotland.  During a cold, windy and wet President’s day weekend, I flew over 3000 miles to sample this part of the world.  I was clueless to the fact that a 3-hour, less than 250-mile drive heading north-west from Washington, D. C., could bring on similar spine-tingling sensations.

Mountain vistas, a national highway over rolling hills scattered with historic sites; cool creeks, heart-stopping-cold, clear mountain rivers, shimmering lakes, and thundering cascades; iconic architectural masterpieces, one hanging precariously above a waterfall, these are the many wonders we found in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.

A 4th of July weekend-getaway brought Dave and me to the area.  Our main destinations: Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, two creations by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Set in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylania, the houses offer a glimpse into the genius’ mind and his desire to combine nature and man-made into one organic whole.  We were also drawn to the woodlands, rivers and lakes; all promised the chance to recharge our batteries.

Aside from seeking mental and spiritual stimulation, we were pleasantly inspired by breakfast on Sunday morning. Our hosts,  Kitty and David at the Hartzell House B & B, offered selections that were  generous, nutritious , delicious and delightfully presented (try Kitty’s California -inspired, organic Huevos Rancheros, the Mushroom quiche or a decadent, floral-design arranged trio of peanut butter pancakes topped with chocolate syrup or David’s fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls; yum, yum, yum!).  Fortunately, Kitty’s abundant local knowledge helped in our attempt to keep healthy.  Just as breakfast had us salivating and thinking “this is too pretty to eat” before tucking in with gusto, so did her tip to explore Ohiopyle State Park leave us eager to head out  and (for me) avoid excess pounds with a few heart-pounding, sweat-inducing hikes and bike-rides along waterfalls and the Youghiogheny River.

For as long as I can remember, creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans have always fascinated and exhilarated; being close to them I get lost in reverie and come away revived, nurtured, and soothed. That morning, wandering through the Laurel  Highlands, hiking along Meadow Run trail to the Slides, Cucumber Falls and catching a glimpse of Ohiopyle falls in the state park of the same name did just that.

Later that day, I thought it ironic that one of the smallest of the falls has achieved world-fame through its association with a man-made masterpiece –Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  Bear  Run Creek flows under the house; in early July it seemed a soft and harmonious background sound as it cascaded over a series of shallow rocks.  Compare this to Cucumber Falls, where the water rushed into a valley from a  30-foot-height to dash in a crashing crescendo on the rocks below, effectively drowning out any attempt at normal conversation.

Exhilarating as it is to navigate nature and view such sights, life, at times, can be funnily ironic.

Most people, when they visit places like Fallingwater, bring home a souvenir or two. I enjoy browsing the gift shops that invariably are attached to such sights.  Often there is some trinket that insists on coming home with me. On this trip, however, the souvenir was one I could have done without.

After climbing on wet rocks, trudging over muddy trails, ducking under fallen trees and standing atop waterfalls, I fell flat on my face in front of Falls Market, three miles from Fallingwater.  Bruises, scrapes and a fractured foot are the mementos I carried home.

I fell hard for Scotland’s highlands.  I fell in love again with the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.   I’m not fickle; after all, a girl can have more than one loves.  I just didn’t plan on falling “… head over heels” quite so literally.

A happy camper, before “the fall”


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